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North Korea nuclear test site out of action following massive 2017 blast – China report

26 April 2018

According to a study by Chinese geologists, North Korea's main nuclear testing site has disintegrated under the stress of five successive bomb tests. A mountain above the Punggye-ri facility has collapsed, the report said, rendering the site unsafe for future testing and presenting a serious risk of radiation leaks.

Map: VOA
Map: VOA

The paper's authors, Tian Dongdong, Yao Jiawen and Wen Lianxing, urged Chinese authorities to continue monitoring any leakage of radioactive materials. The test site is less than 100 km from the Chinese border.

The peer-reviewed study carrying news of the collapse is by China's University of Science and Technology, and collected data after North Korea carried out its most powerful bomb test to date on 3 September, 2017.

Geologists believe the explosion, with a yield estimated at 100 kilotons of TNT, may have triggered an initial collapse toward the test centre followed by an "earthquake swarm" over several weeks.

This blast was at least 10 times stronger than anything the North had tested previously. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of about 15 kilotons.

North Korean nuclear tests have been a cause for concern in China before. Tests, fears of radiation leaks and post-test earthquakes have in the past resulted in evacuations on the Chinese side of the border. Chinese authorities have said they have detected no radiation from past tests.

Kune Yull Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University, has also warned further tests could threaten volcanic eruption at Mount Paektu, on the North Korea-China border.

On April 21, President Kim Jong Un said that North Korea would cease activity on its weapons testing programme in the run up to potential meetings with his South Korean and US counterparts over the coming weeks.

News that the country’s main nuclear test site is no longer useable could partially explain North Korea’s unexpected conciliatory offer, although Pyongyang has not suggested it will give up its nuclear ambitions entirely.

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